Six Years of Casual Sex Does Not Prove a De Facto Relationship

It's the question family lawyers get asked perhaps more than any other - how do I prove if I'm in a de facto relationship?
There are many cases that address this issue and the Federal Circuit Court has recently addressed this question head on again with a decision that may surprise many. Basically, casual sex across any number of years does not in itself automatically legally define a de facto relationship.
No surprise to the lawyers who work in this area, but it may be to the many couples trying to navigate the complex system.
Cassandra Pullos says the subject often arises with people who may have been in a relationship for years, but don’t necessarily live together in the same house.
While many aspects of family law are clearly defined, the definition of a de facto relationship can be confusing to some, which is why so many people seek legal advice on it. Sometimes the answer’s just not as clear cut as they might hope.
So is a six year sexual relationship, not in the same house, a de facto relationship? If it is, then for what period- eight years or only two?
That’s the background to the matter that recently came before the Court. The man who brought the case believed there was a strong case because he and his former partner had been together for a total of eight years, the last two living in the same house. So they were a de facto couple, right? And now they’ve split up, he’s entitled to a share of the assets, yes?
But as the Federal Circuit Court found, it’s not as straightforward as this.
The case before the Court involved a man and woman who had six years of a casual relationship, then moved in together for two years before they broke up.
She held the major value of assets in her name-$2.7m worth-and he made a claim for a slice of the cake- claiming they’d been in a de facto relationship for eight years and he had contributed to the value held by each of them at the end of their relationship. The jointly held property had only a very small value- about $9000 net after taking into account the liabilities attached to those jointly held assets.
The judge shot his case down. Forget the first six years – that was not a de facto relationship. It came down to the two years the couple did spend under the same roof.
The Court found that, yes, the pair inter-mingled their financial affairs, but only to the extent that they entered into joint loans to purchase some property. Otherwise they kept their finances entirely separate.
Cassandra says the court found that there was no basis to adjust the property rights the woman had in the $2.7m worth of property she had in her own name- she kept all of it.
But, the de facto husband argued, his contributions to the joint property - paving and installation of new turf- should count. Not so said the Judge, calling it “a de minimis argument”- (de minimis non curat lex i.e. the law does not concern itself with trifles). Ouch.
The judge went on to find that, but for the contributions of the de facto wife, the asset wouldn’t have existed so the de facto husband didn’t get a share of that either.
So, in summary, he could reflect on the benefit he had in living rent-free in the property owned by his former partner during the relationship.
Cassandra says situations like this happen more often than people may think. Sometimes people may have multiple partners spread around different places and each may think they are in a de facto relationship, when the reality is that casual sex does not legally prove a de facto relationship exists.
Conversely, there are many cases where a de facto relationship has been found to exist where the couple have never lived together, or have spent some time in each other’s homes. It all depends on the entire set of circumstances of each individual couple- and how those circumstances are presented by your lawyers to the Judge. Knowing where to place the focus in your particular circumstances is crucially important.
If you need advice or assistance about your particular circumstances, call us on 07 5526 3646 or contact us here and one of our expert family lawyers will be able to assist you.